Ambassador from Nigeria, Isaiah Owolabi on what we should do to fight malaria.
Follow Isaiah on Twitter: @great_impact10
(Above: Ambassador, Isaiah Owolabi)
Over the last decade, the world has made major progress in the fight against malaria. Since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25%, and 50 of the 99 countries still affected are now on track to meet the 2015 World Health Assembly target of reducing incidence rates by more than 75%. But we are not there yet.
Malaria still kills an estimated 660,000 people worldwide, mainly children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa (the part of the world where I live). As we commemorate the 6th World Malaria Day it’s another opportunity for us to showcase our efforts and reflect on what has worked to combat malaria; a disease that kills 1,800 children everyday (comparable to the number of pupils at three local primary schools in my country, Nigeria), devastating families, communities and slowing down economic development. Are we going to wait like the average onlooker, and watch malaria continue its damage?
The United States eradicated malaria in the late 1940s and early 1950s through the use of the insecticide DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane). However, DDT was later banned in the United States and many other countries because of its harmful effects on the environment and to human health. While the chemical remained legal for malaria control, it became nearly impossible to procure.
In 2000, the World Heath Organization approved DDT as one of 12 insecticides safe for indoor use and, in 2006, the organization began actively supporting DDT for use in malaria control. Though many environmental and agricultural experts are against the use of DDT due to its harmful effects on agricultural products, we all need to remind ourselves about the threat malaria poses to hundreds of thousands of lives.
Most of the health issues we have at my local clinic in Lagos are a result of malaria, and if we must help our people, especially pregnant mothers and young children, we must act promptly to devise effective ways to eliminate malaria without damaging our health or standard of living. It is true that DDT was effective in the past, but there are currently many species of Anopheles mosquitoes now resistant to a wide range of insecticides including DDT, due to the widespread use of these chemicals. Therefore if we must combat malaria we must resort to all means, efforts and strategies compliant with the health standards of our generation so that we may create a better future for the next.
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We are not going to wait any longer. As a young person I have led my organisation, HACEY’s Health Initiative, to educate over 500 rural women on malaria prevention and treatment. We have distributed over 300 long-lasting insecticide treated nets to mothers of children under 5 and pregnant women. This is entirely youth-led. Beyond the passion or character of young people, we are demonstrating competence by making this sustainable.
For me it’s beyond World Malaria Day, it’s about preventing hundreds of thousands of lives lost due to malaria. Every day I continue to work with communities, health workers, vulnerable children and women in rural communities across Nigeria to help them live a healthy and productive life. It’s time for us all to act by confronting the reality that has dawned upon us over time. DDT has worked in the past, but if we must confront the tragedy of malaria today, we must all realise that DDT use must be restricted and allowed only when the harm resulting from it is negligible.
(Above: Isaiah speaking about the malaria problem to a community in Lagos)
So, how can we prevent deaths due to malaria? We must use simple cost effective solutions such as early diagnosis and prompt treatment using effective anti-malaria medication, prevention of malaria in pregnancy through intermitted preventive treatment, using sulphadoxine-pyrimenthamine and use of insecticide treated nets to kill or repel mosquitoes before they bite. We should support causes that can prevent, eliminate and ultimately eradicate malaria; that way we will end deaths due to malaria.